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Cooking class helps those with brain injuries

Newport Beach man with limited use of left side of his body acknowledges that overcoming a brain injury isn't easy. But it's possible, he says.

February 01, 2013|By Bradley Zint
  • Newport Beach resident Colt Munchoff, center, teaches a group how to make purée of cauliflower soup on Jan. 23 in Cypress. He teaches a class on one-handed cooking for people who have suffered from various conditions, including brain injury.
Newport Beach resident Colt Munchoff, center, teaches… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

Colt Munchoff was a former athlete who felt invincible until a childhood trophy smashed into the back of his head, reducing him to nearly nothing.

His punt, pass and kick award flew out of a box in the back seat of Munchoff's car when it was rear-ended on the freeway just outside La Jolla.

Responders took him to the hospital, where he was in a coma for 12 days.

When he came to, he couldn't walk, talk, eat or drink. His 23-year-old body was confined to a wheelchair, his invulnerable "Teflon days" seemingly done.

Yet for Munchoff, the irony of it all — a scenario where the "trophy takes out the athlete" — has never been lost.

"The whole thing is divine," he said, "that the trophy hit me in the back of the head, that it was my wake-up call, that it was the life-changing event … but it was the best thing that ever happened to me."

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The now 43-year-old Newport Beach resident calls the 1993 car accident his "best thing" because for 18 years — with limited use of the left side of his body — he's been able to motivate others with brain injuries, gunshot wounds or other debilitating conditions.

He volunteers his time to help them thrive again, take care of themselves and achieve the degree of normalcy most people take for granted.

One way he does that is through his six-week Cooking with Colt class at B.R.A.I.N.'s headquarters in Cypress. The faith-based nonprofit, which stands for Brain Rehabilitation and Injury Network, is an advocate and provider for adults who have suffered from brain injuries.

Munchoff calls himself the "Emeril Lagasse of one-handed cooking." It's in his blood.

His grandmother ran a steakhouse; his mother had a catering and party-planning business. He's worked in his family's kitchens and is a culinary-school graduate.

Susan Rueb, a Huntington Beach resident and president of B.R.A.I.N., called Munchoff a "profile of healthy living and healthy behaving." He shows people suffering from brain injuries — many of whom don't show obvious signs of harm — that they can again do those day-to-day tasks.

Such injuries are very common, she said. According to B.R.A.I.N., every 21 seconds someone sustains a brain injury. It's more than the rates of breast cancer and heart attacks combined.

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